Landscape Changes in the Andes


An attempt to qualitatively assess the glacial, vegetation and anthropogenic changes in Cordillera Blanca and Cordillera Huayhuash of Peru

Timespan: 1936 – 2012


The fieldwork area of our expedition, Cordillera Blanca (CB) and Cordillera Huayhuash (CH), are the most prominent mountains ranges in all of Peru. CB is a straight mountain chain, 180km long, with NNW to SSE direction, running parallel to the coast from 8°5′ S to 10° S latitude. It also forms the main watershed of Peru. From a geologic perspective, CB is made of plutonic rocks that have penetrated into the layers of the Earth’s crust. These rocks consist mainly of light colour granodiorite (intrusive igneous rock containing more plagioclase than orthoclase), which can be found in the glaciated areas, forming the base of the peaks. Stratified rocks such as black slate (foliated, homogenous, metamorphic rock) surround the granodiorite. These seem folded and strongly compressed towards the crests (Kinzl and Schneider, 1950).

Cordillera Blanca

Cordillera Blanca offers some of the best mountaineering in South America. Its advantageous position in relation to traffic routes and exceptional high summits make CB an accessible high altitude climb. From a climatic perspective, CB has a tropical climate with two main seasons (dry and wet) alternating according to the distribution of rainfall. The rainy season begins in November and ends in April reaching the greatest intensity in January to March. The dry season on the other hand, occupies the remaining months and it is considered to the best season to explore the two cordilleras.

The Huascaran National Park

The Huascaran National Park is situated in the Ancash department in the north – central part of Peru and includes most of the Cordillera Blanca. The national park was established in 1975 and two years later was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The park hosts 60 peaks with altitudes above 5700m, the highest being Huascaran 6768m. Forty-four glacial valleys transect the range from both west and east. The terrain below 4800m is characterised by high altitude grassland (puna) with remnant quenual (Polylepsis species) forests located within the upper inner valley slopes. The Polylepsis forest cover hosts a highly diverse flora and fauna and provides habitat for several endemic species of Andean birds. Unfortunately, humans have drastically reduced the area covered by Polylepsis forest during the past century. Currently only 3% of the original forest exists remains intact.

West of the national park, lies the agricultural and earthquake-affected valley of the Rio Santa – a densely populated region sheltering cities such as Huaraz (90 000 inhabitants), Caraz (15 000 inhabitants) and hundreds of rural settlements. These cities are relatively prosperous, however most rural settlers still rely on subsidence agriculture as means of living. Incomes are mainly based on agriculture, livestock and growing tourism especially in the west part of the park.

Important environmental issues exist in the area. These comprise of: overgrazing of alpine and subalpine pastures, concentrated tourism, uncertain land titles and park boundaries, government policies supportive of resource extraction within the national park and subsequent external pressures such as new roads, mining, dams and tourist infrastructure. However, during 1995 and 1996, the Mountain Institute along with governmental, non-governmental, private sector and local communities produced the Huascaran National Park Ecological Management Plan, the country’s first participatory plan for protected areas (Byers, 2000).

Cordillera Huayhuash

Cordillera Huayhuash is a compact sub region of Cordillera Occidental, 30km long with NNW to SSE direction, running fairly parallel to the coast from 10°8’ S to 10°24’ S latitude. It contains sharp summits, six of which exceed 6000m. The geology of Huayhuash comprises limestone, interbedded with sandstone and shale. Volcanic activity is also present under the forms of cinder cones, hydrothermal alteration (sulphate minerals and iron oxide) and vertical hexagonal columns comprising lithic tuff. In some limestone beds, marine fossils such as ammonites and bivalves can be found. CH is home to some of the most spectacular and difficult alpine climbing in all of the Andes as well as one of the best treks in the word, known as the Great Huayhaush Trek (Frimer, 2003).

Cordillera Huayhuash as seen for the International Space Station. Nasa, 2008.
Cordillera Huayhuash as seen from the International Space Station. Nasa, 2008.

Widely considered the most spectacular peak in South America, Yerupajá (6617m) is so steep that it has seldom been climbed. Yerupajá is locally known as El Carnicero (“The Butcher”) because of its blade-like ridges, typical of mountains that have been heavily eroded by glacial ice. Other features created by the erosive effect of flowing ice are small glacial lakes, which often vary in color due to different amounts of fine mud being fed into them by meltwater from under the glaciers. During the ice ages, the glaciers advanced many kilometers outward from the cordillera, occupying all the surrounding valley floors (all of which lie above 3,000 meters), producing U-shape valleys (Nasa, Earth Observatory, 2015). Despite its forbidding geomorphologic features we decided to attempt a climb on Yerupaja via the west face. Feel free to read the near death mountaineering experience.

 Historic Material

The Deutscher und Osterreichischer Alpenverein (DuOAV) expeditions, created the world-renowned Alpenverein maps, using terrestrial photogrammetry from mid to high altitude photopoints. Moreover, thousands of glass negative plates and Leica photographs were also produced. These historic landscape photographs provide a unique opportunity to qualitatively document contemporary landscape changes (Byers, 2000). We used 21 Alpenverein historic photographs for this study.

The Alpenverein maps used for our research included: i) DON, Deutschen Alpenverein und den Osterreichischen Alpenvereins, Munchen, 1932. “Cordillera Blanca y el Callejon de Huailas (Peru)”, scale 1: 100,000 and 100m contour intervals (fig. This map is commonly referred to as the Parte Norte or north sheet of the Cordillera Blanca. The ii) DON, Deutschen Alpenverein und den Osterreichischen Alpenvereins, Innsbruck, 1939. “Cordillera Blanca Parte Sur” or south part of Cordillera Blanca with scale 1: 100,000 and 100m contour interval was also used. Moreover, we also acquired the Cordillera Blanca und Mittleres Santa-Tal (Peru). Cordillera-Blanca-Expedition des Deutschen und Österreichischen Alpenvereins, 1932. Expeditionsleiter Dr. Ph. Borchers scale 1:100,000. Lastly, we also used a new map of Cordillera Huayhuash, entitled: DAV Alpenvereinskarte Cordillera Huayhuash (Peru), 2008, with scale 1: 50 000.

Location and map of Cordillera Blanca. USGS, 2015.


The main technique we used was repeat photography, also know as Rephotography. This is an analytical tool capable of broadly and rapidly providing preliminary clarifications related to landscape and land use changes within a given region. This was aided by interviews with local people and scientists, and reference to scientific literature. The equipment used included: a Canon EOS MK III DSLR camera with three different lens systems: EFS18-55mm f/2.8, Canon 24-105mm f/4 IS and Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS; a Canon EOS 550D DSLR camera with two lens systems: Canon EFS 18-55mm, f/3.5-5.6 IS, Tamron AF 28-300mm f/1:3.5-6.3 IF and a Panasonic DMC LX2 28mm digital compact camera. For the video documentation of our expedition we used a HD Sony Handycam and a Go Pro Hero 2 video camera. Unfortunately due to the poor quality of the batteries, we used the GoPro very little. Personal, photography and location release forms provided by the National Geographic Society were filled in by every person and landlord interviewed or photographed. For those individuals lacking literacy skills, a simple video acknowledgment was used instead.

It is important to specify some of the problems that we encountered during the fieldwork. Ideally, the historic photographs should be replicated using the precise equipment used by the original photographer. Season, time, date and weather conditions should also be replicated as closely as possible. This was quite challenging due to practical and budgetary constraints, and the remoteness and high altitude of the photo locations. The lack of time and the late departure date of our expedition forced us to reduce the number of photo locations. One way we compensated this logistic challenge was by exploring areas, which provided both scientific and mountaineering potential. Nevertheless, the overall objective – to accurately reproduce several historic photographs to address landscape changes in the two cordilleras – was met.

Results and Discussion

Our expedition managed to reproduce 21 pairs of photographs. 10 of which are shown here in greater detail.

Nevado Ranrapalca (6126m)
Date: 08.08.2012
Aspect: 272°
Time: 12:41
Map Station: S24
Altitude: 5028m
Original: DuOAV, 1936

Nevado Ranrapalca, Quebrada Qojup, Cordillera Blanca in 1939 (left), © DuOAV and 2012 (right), © Sergiu Jiduc.

Glacial Lake Palcacocha Panorama, Quebrada Cojup, Cordillera Blanca               
Date: 08.08.2012
Time: 13:04
Aspect: 01°
Map Station: S24
Altitude: 4991m
Original: DuOAV, 1939

Glacial Lake Palcacocha in Quebrada Cojup, Cordillera Blanca in 1939 (left), © DuOAV and 2012 (right), © Sergiu Jiduc.

Palcacocha is a tropical glacial lake prone to glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF’s). On December 13, 1941, an ice/serac avalanche coming from a hanging glacier on Pucaranra – Palcacocha peaks (in the image background), collapsed into the impounded Palcacocha lake. This event has resulted in a shock wave within the lake that led to the breaching of the terminal moraine that containing the lake. A massive wave swept down the entire Cojup valley, and also entrained the water of another lake, Laguna Jiracocha, situated 2-3 miles downstream of Palcacocha lake. The combined water of the two lakes raced downstream onto Huaraz city, delivering a deadly combination rock boulders, ice and liquid mud. More than 6,000 people died and large parts of the city were destroyed (Ayers, 1954). The approximate arrival time of the flood was estimated at 22 minutes with the peak in downstream discharge produced at about 33 minutes after the breach (conceptual models, Rivas, 2012). The flood has drained a large volume of water as shown by the above pair of old and new images. Qualitative image comparison shows widespread glacier recession, especially in the centre and left hand side of the photographs. Ice thinning is also present on Palcaraju (6274m). New geomorphic features such as gullies, sumps, torrents have formed.

Climate change is accelerating the retreat of tropical glaciers in Peru with hydrological consequences such as the increase in glacial lake volume. Although the 1941 GLOF event has drained a substantial amount of water, the volume of Palcacocha Lake, has increased from 1941 to 2010 by as much as 7 million m3. This volume increase has been the result of climate change induced glacier melting (Rivas, 2012). Knowledge about the behaviour of an expected GLOF event in Palcacocha is required in order to craft effective emergency strategies to prevent human life loss as well major infrastructure damage in the downstream areas.

Glacial Lake Palcacocha, Quebrada Cojup, Cordillera Blanca  
Date: 08.08.2012
Time: 09:18
Aspect: 038°
Map Station: S39
Altitude: 4525m
Original: DuOAV, 1939

Glacial Lake Palcacocha, Quebrda. Cojup, Cordillera Balnca in 1939, (left), ©DuOAV and in 2012 (right), © Sergiu Jiduc.

This set of photographs shows the 80 year evolution of Palcacocha lake and the glaciers that surround it. Image comparison shows widespread glacier recession and thinning, particularly in the centre of the image pair. Furthermore, an accumulation of moraine debris can be observed on the right hand side of the 2012 image (right). Additionally, we observed several geomorphic and periglacial processes such as mass movements, erosion and ground ice typical to glaciated high elevation catchment. We hypothesise that the debris mound on the right hand side of the 2012 image (right)  is the result of nivation, freeze-thaw, solifluction, gelifluction, rock and ice falls. The size and volume of Palcacocha lake has increased substantially since 1941 due to climatic warming and in turn due to the increase in meltwater input from the rapidly melting hanging glaciers above. The Peruvian Government, Mountain Institute and Glaciological Institute combined have taken adaptation measures in the form of dam and hydrological engineering to prevent future glacial lake outburst flood events at Palcacoha. The 2012 image (right) was taken from the newly consolidated moraine dam. A drainage system was installed with pipes floating on the lake that drain excess meltwater. Workers drag and place the pipes at various location across the lake using small boats, ropes and human muscle power. This high elevation hydro-engineering system was designed to control the water volume of the lake and prevent future flood hazards. This is a clear example of anthropic intervention in glaciated environments. Lake Palcacocha is one of the most important freshwater resources of Huaraz.

Breakthrough morainal dam, Lake Palcacocha, Cordillera Blanca in 1954 (left), © F.D. Ayres and in 2012 (right), © Sorin Rechitan.

The above photograph pair show the moraine breach resulted from the ice avalanche. The moraine wall was estimated to be around 45m high. Image comparison shows an increase in the width of the breach due to erosion and usage of boulder material for the construction of the dam and drainage system. The boulder flow that accompanied the flood can be clearly depicted in both images. Puna grassland (alpine vegetation) has covered some parts of this terrain. The degree of shrinkage and thinning of the hanging glaciers on Pucaranra and Palcaraju is substantial. Since 1954, we estimate that several hundreds of meters of ice have disappeared. As a consequence, the Palcacocha Lake behind the moraine has increased dramatically since the flood occurred.

Laguna Paron, Cordillera Blanca
Date: 11.08.2012
Time: 15:03
Aspect: 057°
Map Station: S38
Altitude: 4346m
Original: DuOAV, 1939

Laguna Paron as seen from Huandoy Moraine, Cordillera Blanca in 1939 (left), © DuOAV and in 2012 (right), © Sorin Rechitan.

Laguna Paron is the largest lake in Cordillera Blanca and was formed as a natural moraine reservoir. The lake was formally used for the Canon de Plata hydroelectric plan until 2008. An interview with a local worker has suggested that the catchment area of the lake is 44.3 km², and the lakes length is 3.7 km (E-W) whereas the width is 700 m (N-S). The original depth of the lake was about 75 m, but today the level was lowered by ca. 15 m to prevent the collapse of the moraine. Additionally, our interview has raised concerns about the current usage of the lake. Even though, the lake has substantial hydroelectric potential, the lake water is only used for irrigation. This is due to the privatisation scandal, which started in 1994, and the negative effects on the local communities of the excessive water discharge rate of 8m3/s. The qualitative comparison of the photographs shows a decrease in the lake’s level since 1939. This is the result of anthropic intervention. The water level is controlled by a tunnel and underwater gate, to keep water level at 4155 m aiming a double objective: to prevent the overflow and the resulting risk for the downstream population and to manage the river discharge. The high concentrations of dissolved lime give the water of Paron a turquoise colour.

Glacial Lake Artesonraju, Quebrada Paron, Cordillera Blanca
Date: 15.08.2012
Time: 14:30
Aspect: 350°
Map Station: S37
Altitude: 4297m
Original: DuOAV, 1939

Glacial Lake Artesonraju, Cordillera Blanca in 1939 (left), © DuOAV and in 2012 (right), © Sergiu Jiduc.

This pair of photograph clearly indicates the alarming amount of ice cover that has disappeared in last 80 years. The rock face in the centre of the images is around 300m high. It is easily observed that the entire hanging glacier has disappeared. The lake has increased substantially in size and volume. The large seracs present in the 1939 image (left) on the southwest face of Artesonraju have shrunk considerably. River runoff has also increased since 1939 as interviews with local people have pointed out. A small dam with a drainage system has been built at the western shore of the lake where natural streams exit the lake. As in the case of lake Palcacocha, in Quebrada Cojup, this dam controls the water discharge further down the valley and prevents dangerous increases in lake level. Considering the importance of the hydrological properties of Paron Valley (i.e. Paron dam and tunnel, Canon de Plata hydroelectric plan), this area is one of the most accurately investigated areas in Cordillera Blanca.

This photograph shows the Paron Glacier located between Artesonraju and Piramide peaks. This is the same hanging glacier shown in the above photograph pair, which has now retreated by at least 300m. The glacial lake has formed between 1932 and 1940 at the Paron Glacier terminus, (described also by H. Kinzl in 1950) and has increased in size and volume ever since. In order to avoid a possible outburst of the lake through the terminal moraine, a drainage system, similar to that in Cojup Valley, has been built further downstream to control the water outflow. A monitoring station, which measures the glacier melt rate, snowfall, solar radiation intensity, wind speed, humidity and precipitation has been installed on the glacier. These measurements are important to assess the state of health of the glacier and lake and thus prevent a catastrophic outburst flood. Such an event would be disastrous for the communities located downstream such as Caraz.

Huascaran (6768m) seen from Yungay Cemetery, Cordillera Blanca
Date: 06.08.2012
Aspect: 058°
Time: 15:04
Map Station: S21
Altitude: 2657m
Original: DuOAV, 1939

Nevado Huascaran (6768m) as seen form Yungay Cemetery in 1939 (left), © DuoAV and 2012 (right), © Sorin Rechitan.

In 1970, Yungay city and Ranrahirca village were completely destroyed and buried under a thick layer of liquefied mud, ice and large boulders due to a 7.7 magnitude earthquake. The earthquake caused the displacement of a large section of a hanging glacier located on the west face of Huascaran Norte and resulted in a deadly debris flow. Ironically, only the cemetery surveyed the deadly “aluvion” as it has been built on a high mound. A new city was built after the earthquake further north of the old one, however people still live and work in the area affected by the debris flow. As Rio Santa Valley continues to be affected by earthquakes, the potential of a new deadly debris flow is imminent. In terms of vegetation cover, Eucalyptus species now populate the area more extensively than before the catastrophic event. The thinning and retreat of glaciers on Nevado Huascaran is spectacular. The limit marked by the difference in rock colour (the lighter brown being the consequence of glacier erosion such as abrasion and plucking) represents the past snow line. The glacial line has progressed several hundred meters up the mountain.

Image copyright: USGS, 2015.

Nevado Chopicalqui (6354m), Cordillera Blanca
Date: 09.08.2012
Time: 16:56
Aspect: 165°
Map Station: S20
Altitude: 4726m
Original DuOAV, 1939

North view of Nevado Chopicalqui (6354m), Cordillera Blanca in 1939 (left) © DuoAV and in 2012 © Sorin Rechitan.

The north view of Nevado Chopicalqui (6354m) showed in the image pair above was taken from the highest pass of Quebrada Llanganuco. The qualitative analysis indicates large-scale glacier recession. The ice thinning and recession is quite spectacular in some areas such as in the case of ice flutings dropping from the summit crest. The glacier on the bottom left hand side of the images has shrunk by a few hundred meters in the past 80 years. The hanging seracs present in the 1939 photograph (left) have partially if not but all disappeared. The “Swiss roll” ice features present on the north ridge in the centre of the two photographs have also shrunk considerably in size.

Yerupaja Grande (6617m), Cordillera Huayhuash
Date: 21.08.2012
Time: 08:20
Aspect: 230°
Map Station: S43
Altitude: 4138m
Original: DuOAV, 1936

Yerupaja Grande, as seen form Laguna Carhuacocha, Cordillera Huayhuash in 1936 (left), ©DuoAV and in 2012 © Sergiu Jiduc.

Glacier recession is present on a massive scale in Cordillera Huayhuash as well. The image pair above show the Yerupaja East Glacier, which has lost an estimated of 200m of ice since 1939. Most of the hanging ice is lost through serac fall and avalanches. Advanced glacial retreat is observed on the left hand side of the 2012 photograph (right), on the col between Yerupaja and Siula Grande. We have seen an increase in the number, size and frequency of crevasses on all the glaciers explored. Many climbing routes established in the 1970’ are now impracticable due to the massive crevasses and bergschrunds that spread across the entire mountain faces, some of them being 40 meters wide or more. We had many difficulties crossing these crevasses and bergschrunds while attempting to climb Yerupaja Grande West Face. The route descriptions from the 1970’ such as those presented in Frimer, (2003) have acknowledged the existence of these large crevasses and bergschrunds however they were considered safe to cross at that point in time. However, today these crevasses are often too wide to cross.

Low latitude glaciers are sensitive indicators in the climatic system. The atmosphere in the low latitudes is thermally homogenous in space and time and thus seasonality is caused by the annual cycle of atmospheric moisture content. Therefore, low latitude glaciers such as the ones in Cordillera Huayhuash and Cordillera Blanca, depict seasonal fluctuations or changes in the seasonality of moisture related to climate variables besides the thermally induced variations. Drier atmospheric conditions may have affected the two cordilleras in the past years, and in turn accelerating the melting of glaciers.

Quebrada Llanganuco, Cordillera Blanca
Date: 09.08.2012
Time: 15:31
Aspect: 234°
Altitude: 4493m
Map Station: S41
Original: DuOAV, 1939

Quebrada Llanganuco, Cordillera Blanca in 1939 (left), © DuOAV and in 2012 (right), ©Sergiu Jiduc.

Quebrada Llanganuco offers great views of Huascaran, Huandoy, Yanapaccha and Pisco as well as the beautiful lakes Chinancocha and Orconcocha (image pair above). Llanganuco valley experiences some intensive tourism, as a consequence of being included in the great Santa Cruz Trek and because it provides the main access route to Pisco, Chopicalqui and Yanapaccha. Qualitative analysis of the old and new photographs indicate a relative stability in the area covered by the native ‘quenual’ (polylepsis) forest species however there is a substantial increase in anthropic impact as described above. The building of the road that connects Callejón de Huaylas to Yanama, and other cities situated east of Cordilera Blanca (Callejon de Conchucos) and the pollution of the lake due to tourism consist some of these anthropogenic changes


The qualitative study of landscape changes in Cordillera Blanca and Cordillera Huayhuash of Peru was performed on three major parameters: glacial cover, vegetation cover and human influence on land. The results of our study have pointed out a relatively widespread and severe glacial recession with some glaciers loosing from 1/4 to 1/3 of their size and mass. This recession has been accompanied by many rock and ice avalanching which in turn have increased the risk and likelihood of catastrophic glacial lake outburst floods. Under these circumstances, the Peruvian authorities have initiated mitigation and adaptation solutions based on engineering to try and reduce the risk of catastrophic floods and severe water scarcity scenarios. Some have been successful such as the project in Cojup and Paron valleys. Nevertheless many more such projects need to be initiated in the rest of the remaining and populous tributary valleys of Rio Santa in order to secure the livelihoods of hundreds of thousand of people.

In the context of an increasing population, the melting of glaciers in Cordillera Blanca and Cordillera Huayhuash is affecting the vulnerability of Andean communities and their access to freshwater. As glaciers melt, there is a transitory increase in runoff, due to mass reduction. Nevertheless, water stored as ice in glaciers is limited and the apparent increase in runoff is only temporary. In a few decades, after glaciers have lost substantial mass, a decrease in runoff will follow. This trend will be even more pronounced during the low flow season when the relative contribution of melt water is at its maximum (Barer, et al. 2012). In the next few decades, many mountain communities could be affected by serious water shortages issues.

The 2007 IPCC report, suggested that the Andes of Peru is one of the most biologically diverse areas on Earth. A research carried out by the Florida Institute of Technology, suggested that the new century may bring hundreds or even thousands of plant and animal extinctions to this richly endowed area due to climate change and the growing anthropic impact on the natural ecosystems. Cordillera Blanca lost over 25% of its glacial ice in the last 30 years. With over 70% of the population living in the coastal desert and dependent entirely on mountain water, the Peruvian population is extremely sensitive to hydrological changes caused by climate induced glacier melting. Moreover, Peru is the third most vulnerable country in the world to extreme weather, following Honduras and Bangladesh. With climate models predicting that the intensity and frequency of extreme events such as storms, droughts and El Niño southern oscillation to increase in the near future, it is believed that Peru will be one of the most heavily affected countries in the world by climate change.

Besides the alarming shrinkage of glaciers, and the resulting hydrological chnages of the Rio Santa watershed, interviews with the local people raised concerns regarding the legal and illegal mining, in both cordilleras. It seems there is a lack of information regarding the exact number of mines, and their effects on the local soil, and water resources. Some locals believe that old-technology and polluting mining practices (e.g cyanide) have severe contaminating effects to the environment with no quantitative or qualitative account of them. This subject is taboo, and opinions are divided. As a developing country, Peru has the right to extract many of its valuable resources, but what is the impact of this unsustainable mineral extraction to the environment? Moreover, the lack of sewage accompanied with the heavy exploitation of the Rio Santa bed for construction purposes, as well as the redirections of the water from the river consist major problems that require urgent solutions. The pollution of Cordillera Huayhuash due to the increase in tourism and subsequently the increase in the disposal of waste, is a main environmental degradation concern. Garbage can be found on many trekking trails and this phenomenon is more widespread than ever before according to local anecdotes. The degradation of grasslands, alpine areas and aquatic systems due to camping and waste disposal is very common in Cordillera Huayhuash.

Another important problem that Andean communities are currently facing is poverty. More than two out of three Andean people live in extreme poverty, with 6 million alone in the Central Andes. Poverty in the Andean area is the result of a few factors such as the poor productivity of land, fragility of mountain environments, weak infrastructure, lack of educational opportunities and social marginalisation. The latter two have been pointed out during our short collaboration with Changes for New Hope a NGO preoccupied with improving the lives of the poor and underprivileged children and their families in the Peruvian Andes. Through the dedication of Mr Jim Killon, the founder and president of the organisation, along with volunteers and supporters worldwide, Changes for New Hope aims to help families living in poverty to become self-sufficient, to develop opportunities for children to reach their fullest potential and to enhance the level of respect, self-esteem and community awareness.


Our research has qualitatively produced some insights regarding the landscape changes in Cordillera Blanca and Cordillera Huayhuash of Peru. Our results indicated widespread glacier recession accompanied by hydrological changes such as the formation of new glacial lakes and an apparent increase in runoff; changes in the flow characteristics of glacier fed rivers; changes in flood severity and frequency and the presence of glacier lake outburst flood events. Urban expansion, population growth and an increased human influence on water-glacier systems through the construction of dams and drainage systems have also been qualitatively documented. Regarding the vegetation cover, there seems to be an apparent stability in the area covered by native polylepsis species accompanied by an increase in the area covered by non-native eucalyptus and pinus species. Cultivated lands have fairly increased in area with a few exceptions such as around the settlement of Carhuas. Of considerable concern is the environmental degradation and pollution caused by the contamination of the soil and water resources due to mining activities and unsustainable tourism and subsequent waste disposal.

The impacts resulting from the shrinkage and disappearance of mountain glaciers in response to ongoing climate change will have many detrimental, social, ecological and economic impacts due to retreat-related hydrological changes. With the majority of Peruvian population living in the coastal desert, their dependence on mountain glaciers as a freshwater supply is crucial and climate change mitigation and adaptation programmes must be designed and implemented locally. Unless the international climbing and trekking community resolves the waste disposal issue in Cordillera Huayhuash and Blanca, internally by creating incentives for good behaviour, the beauty and ecosystem equilibrium of these mountain systems will be under threat. Education and information must play a key role in the social and economic evolution of Andean communities in order to better understand the changes occurring around them, mitigate any negative effects and become self sufficient. Connecting communities and developing infrastructure and sustainable tourism can create new sources of income for the people and substantially reduce poverty.


I should especially thank my university staff, Dr Kate Heal, Dr Wyn Williams and Dr Anthony Newton whom, from the beginning supported the project and myself, providing recommendations and constructive feedback as well as insightful advice. I also thank Christian Silva Lindo, whose knowledge, expertise, patience, and hospitality made our expedition, logistically possible. I thank too the Alpenverein librarians in Innsbruck and Munich and the National Snow and Ice Data Center for providing valuable historic photographs. I particularly would like to thank the National Geographic Society for supporting the project and providing us the opportunity to stretch our limits and seek further into the field of research and exploration. Special thanks also goes to Mr Horia Pasculescu, Mr Razvan Muntianu, Mr Vlad Lascu, Mr Glad Varga, Mr Alin Buda and the rest of my sponsors in Romania, as without their support, the project would have been delayed considerably. Last but not least, I should thank Sorin Rechitan who provided photographic equipment and knowledge; therefore substantially increasing the quality of our material; and my climbing partner, Aurel Salasan, whose patience, dedication and climbing experience have made the ascents possible.


Frimer, J. 2005. Climbs and Treks in the Cordillera Huayhuash, of Peru. Elaho Publishing Corporation, Squamish, British Columbia, Canada.

Kinzl, H. and Schneider. 1950. E. Cordillera Blanca, Peru. Universitats –Verlag Wagner, Inssbruck.

Ricker, J. F.1981. Yurak Janka. Cordilleras Blanca and Rosko. Alpine Club of Canada. Banff. Canada

Academic Journals

Baraer, M., Mark, G.B., McKenzie, M.J., Condom, T., Bury, J., Huh.K, Portocarrero, C., Gomez, J. and Rathay, S. 2012. Glacier Recession and water resources in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca. Journal of Glaciology. 58: 207.

Byers, A.C. 2000. Contemporary Landscape change in the Huascaran National Park and Buffer Zone, Peru. International Mountain Society. 20:52-63.

Keltenborn, B.P., Nellemann, C., Vistenes, I.I. (Eds). 2010. High mountain glaciers and climate change – Challenges to human livelihoods and adaptation. United Nations Environment Programme.

M.L. Parry, O.F. Canziani, J.P. Palutikof, P.J. van der Linden and C.E. Hanson, Eds. 2007. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 976 pp.

Rivas. D. 2012. Term report. Glacier lake outburst flood (GLOF). Palcacocha Lake, Peru. Environmental and Water Resource Engineering Program. University of Texas at Austin.

The Mountain Institute. 2007. Annual report: Protecting Mountains and Mountain Communities in a Rapidly Changing World. Washington, USA.

Address list, web links and telephone numbers

Alpenverein Library, Innsbruck, Tel: +43 512 595 4776

Casa de Guias – Parque Ginebra 28-6 apartado 123. Ancach, Huaraz, Tel: 0051 44 721 811

Caroline Lodging – 28 de Julio, Plaza de Armas, Tel: 0051 43 422 588

Christian Silva Lindo – Av. Tarapaca 979 (Jr. 27 de Nobiembre), Huaraz. Peru, Tel: 0051 943 48 48 38

Deutscher Alpenverein, Bayer Strasse 21V, Tel: 089 140 030

Movil Tours – Av. Pareo de la Republica 749 Lima and Av Alfredo Mendiola 3883, Tel: 0051 523 2385